Saturday, September 11, 2004

Ratings Not So Fab Anymore for 'Queer Eye'

Ratings not so fab as 'Queer Eye' fades
Friday, September 10, 2004 Posted: 1625 GMT (0025 HKT)

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) -- Once television's fashion sensation, "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" seems to be going out of style.
Barely a year after the Bravo series exploded into a pop-culture phenomenon, its ratings indicate that "Eye" has become as passe as white jeans after Labor Day.
Viewership for first-run episodes plummeted during the summer by about 40 percent versus a year ago in the NBC Universal-owned cable network's target demographic, viewers 25-54, as well as 18-49. Tuesday's new episode drew 804,000 in the latter demographic -- its second-lowest yet.
There is no shortage of factors that might explain the drop, ranging from overexposure to heavy competition in its Tuesday 10 p.m. time slot. While many cable series fray at the edges in their sophomore seasons, "Queer Eye's" ratings decline has been steeper than most in recent years.
"It's a pretty stiff decline," said Brad Adgate, senior vp research at media-buying agency Horizon Media. "It's a little surprising because you would think the halo effect of having the Olympics on Bravo would help it, too."
But with "Eye" still the network's top-rated series and an Emmy nomination to its credit, Bravo president Lauren Zalaznick believes the series has already proved its worth by putting the network on the map and paving the way for the next generation of Bravo originals.
"The strategy for 'Eye' was a very sound one: to take Bravo from nowhere to somewhere," said Zalaznick, who added oversight of the network with the NBC Universal merger in May. " 'Eye' is going to live a long, healthy life."
Still, she allowed for the possibility of some creative tweaking.
" 'Eye' does not need a facelift," she said. "Maybe a little Botox."
The decline of "Eye" would have seemed unthinkable last summer: The provocatively titled makeover series was drawing buzz even before its debut in July 2003. "Eye" proceeded to break Bravo ratings records repeatedly in its opening months with help from new owner NBC, which heavily marketed the series and even aired a few of its episodes in primetime.
By the fall, the "Fab Five" cast of Carson Kressley, Thom Filicia, Kyan Douglas, Ted Allen and Jai Rodriguez were seemingly everywhere, from appearances on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" to "Eye"-branded books and CDs. They also made their mark through endorsement deals, like Filicia's pitchman pact with retailer Pier One.
But "Eye" began to sink not long after beginning its second season in June. It bottomed out August 3, with just 617,000 viewers in that demographic; an episode that aired the same week last year drew nearly 2 million 25-54 viewers.
Bravo's overall ratings for August responded in kind, dropping 20 percent from the previous year in 18-49 and 25-54 -- despite having three hours of Olympic coverage leading into primetime on the East Coast. However, Bravo researchers note that "Eye" is not down nearly as sharply when repeat episodes are measured.
Not helping matters is "Eye's" crowded Tuesday time slot, including TBS rebroadcasts of "Sex and the City" and a second-year cable series that has avoided slumping, FX's "Nip/Tuck." But "Eye" held its own last year in a time slot just as tough, which also included MTV's perennial powerhouse "The Real World."
In retrospect, the series' early success might have been its timing. "Eye" blew in amid a perfect storm of social trends, as gay issues like same-sex marriage made headlines and the boon of makeover-style programming like "Trading Spaces." The "Fab Five" were also well situated to become the goodwill ambassadors of metrosexuality, the male-grooming trend then just starting to build.
"They were properly positioned for all those elements coming together," said Michael Wilke, executive director of the Commercial Closet, an organization studying the depiction of gays in advertising. "But if you embody a cultural moment, it presents the challenge of continuing past that moment."
Another culprit is the questionable staying power of reality programming itself, particularly in the makeover category, which was already approaching saturation before "Eye" began. The granddaddy of the genre, TLC's "Spaces," recently registered huge losses but has been on the air since 2000.
Ubiquity also has a way of accelerating the life cycle of a hit series; industry observers compare "Eye" to MTV's "The Osbournes," another hit reality series-cum-media obsession that burned out quickly after going white hot. But "Osbournes" didn't drop as steeply as "Eye" in its second season.
MTV is able to compensate for the short shelf life of unscripted programming with a prolific production unit. Bravo has pledged to double its own output, but while other new series including "Celebrity Poker Showdown" have improved on the primetime average, none are on "Eye" level.
In an unintended way, the decline of "Eye" actually plays into the growth strategy for Bravo. Now that the series has raised the channel's visibility, Bravo needs to define the channel's identity beyond being a one-hit wonder. "We are not just the 'Queer Eye' network," said Jeff Gaspin, president of NBC Universal Cable Entertainment, at a July press conference.
But some of the upcoming programming was inspired by "Eye" itself, including a 13-episode spinoff, "Queer Eye for the Straight Girl," and a British adaptation of "Eye" currently on the air. Zalaznick doesn't believe they are rehashing a tired concept. "It's an OK risk to take," she said. "This show has been so successful, I would put on the Japanese or Slovenian version."
There's plenty more of the original "Eye" on the way as well, with Bravo ordering 40 episodes from Scout Prods. in October.